Sunday, 14 April 2002  
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Ending a vicious cycle

One of the country's past heads of government once referred to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as well as the other separatist militant groups as a 'handful of terrorists'. In similar vein, partially following that lead, other national politicians took to referring to the separatist militant movement as 'cowardly terrorists' or simply 'terrorists'.

While the last term, though intentionally derogatory, did show some respect for the political-military impact of the militant groups, the preceding terms were more dismissive epithets designed to belittle the growing separatist movement. In fact in those early post-colonial decades, when the ethnic problem was just beginning to show signs of becoming an open conflict, the prevailing practice among the powers that be was to belittle and negate the significance of the militant phenomenon.

Those early political prophets, such as Colvin R. de Silva, as well as many small human rights groups and civic lobbies, who warned of the dangers of allowing the ethnic problem to fester unresolved, were usually met with derision. In later years, as the ethnic problem deteriorated into a conflict, those advocates of ethnic equality and devolution were branded as 'traitors' and suffered political harassment.

Today, political fortunes have come full circle. Today, that very 'handful of terrorists' is being dealt with on an equal footing by the national political establishment and the local press that once blacked out their activities, is now rushing northward together with the global media to listen to their words and visually record their posturing.

Today, it is those once derided militants who are in the limelight, who are doing the deriding. Velupillai Prabhakaran has, at last, emerged from the jungles into the full view of the cameras only to behave in a fashion similar to those who once derided him and hunted him. Now it seems to be the turn of the LTTE leadership to posture, to dismiss, and to make bombastic claims.

Likewise, those opposed to the process of reconciliation and peace are already responding to the statements made in Kilinochchi with contempt and scorn.

But Sri Lankan society is not about to indulge in yet another round of mud-slinging and hate speech. The wages of war and social dislocation have been so powerful an experience that the mainstream of society has emerged out of it more cognizant of the problem and the challenges, and more sensitive to the needs of the times. Lessons have been learned at last, and the national leadership today has transcended the crude retort and bitter condemnation.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, perhaps in atonement of the errors of his political forebears, has led the way in positive response. He has chosen to ignore the bombast and seize on the politically constructive propositions that emanated from Kilinochchi. His creative leadership breaks the vicious cycle of ethnic hatred and conflict and seeks to turn that media event into an opportunity for affirming the possibility of a political settlement. His efforts are to take Sri Lankan society forward towards a closer engagement with the concrete issues.

Likewise, the business community has urged a measured response to the statements in Kilinochchi. Business leaders too are seeking out the creative possibilities offered by the LTTE's first dalliance with the mass media.

The vast majority of Sri Lankans, as they celebrate the traditional New Year, will take heart at this new trend in our usually acrimonious political life. They will hope that all sections of society will learn the lessons of history, including the LTTE.

The teachings of Lord Buddha against arrogance and triumphalism are of immense significance as we collectively tread the tortuous path to a political settlement.

Crescat Development Ltd.

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